Students from Germany and Jewish students held an evening panel discussion and Q&A surrounding facilitating discussion of the Holocaust with Germans and Jews. The March 6 panel, sponsored by the German and European Studies Department, was introduced by the director of the department and led by Brandeis alum Benyamin Meschede-Krasa ’17, whose mother is German and father is Israeli.
On one side of the panel were two German students, Felix Knodel and Mia Balk, from the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace at Hebrew Senior Life. On the other side were two Jewish students at Brandeis, Elan Kawesch ’20 and Jillian Fisch ’21, all involved in some level of Holocaust studies or ongoing dialogue.
The alumni leader of the panel had one side of his family involved in Hitler Youth, while the other side of his family was in the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp in Poland. This was the beginning of an informative discussion between both groups of students.
Both Jewish students are involved in similar activities and organizations surrounding Holocaust education, including traveling to Europe to allow Jewish students to experience places that are part of Holocaust history first-hand.
Panelists began by discussing various questions between themselves for the audience to listen. One question given pertained to each student’s personal story about the Holocaust. This involved each panelist explaining why they got involved in Holocaust studies and education.
Each student, in this instance, gave a personal story or moment in their lives that prompted either an interest in learning more about the Holocaust or it becoming more relevant in their lives as young people and as students. Kawesch described growing up in Boston’s Jewish community and not understanding the deep, personal impact of the Holocaust for himself until visiting the Belzec extermination camp in Poland.
Fisch explained an instance in her high school history class. The teacher gave the students an activity to choose the best choice of political control following Germany’s loss in World War I, ideally that would improve conditions. Half the students chose the Nazi party unknowingly, many being Jewish students that would not consciously make this choice if the party’s name had been known. This, to her, illustrates a complexity in how World War II and the Holocaust unfolded as they did.
The two German students had differing experiences. One of the students was able to engage in dialogue with a Holocaust survivor from Schindler’s List—facilitated by Oskar Schindler saving a large number of Jews during the Holocaust. It was through this event that he realized the survivor was there. This caused the student to realize the realness of the Holocaust.
The panel leader, following his two questions, allowed the students to ask each other questions. Each group mainly asked questions pertaining to how American Jews react today to German people and vice versa. As an example, both German students expressed the hope that the overall hatred of Germans would change in future generations. As the conversations surrounding the Holocaust and anti-Semitism develop and change, they hope there will be both more open dialogue and less sweeping generalizations around hatred.
When the panel opened the floor to audience members to pose their questions, various topics were touched upon. One that was brought up throughout the event was the Tree of Life synagogue shooting on Oct. 27, 2018.
As the Holocaust is an example of ongoing anti-Semitism, though it was an extreme example, the Pittsburgh shooting is most relevant in the context of recent events. Those that mentioned the shooting allowed the general event itself to contribute to the global understanding of past events and their bearing on the present and future. The student panelists often connected through an understanding of how the Holocaust, and the global education around it, is being shaped presently and can be further developed and delved into by future generations of Jews, non-Jews and the entirety of global society.